Hello everyone! I’ve had the pleasure to become acquainted with Z.R. Southcombe, a children’s adventure and fantasy author from New Zealand. She has such a helping attitude toward others. I think you’ll find her delightful and interesting. She believes “We’re all in this together,” and so do I. 🙂
You can find her delightful first book What Stars Are Made Of on Amazon, which tells a story through pictures.
Z.R.’s new book is The Caretaker of Imagination:
The following is the original interview Z.R. gave to Mrs. Inger D. Kenobi, and I’d like to share it.
And now, without further ado . . . ahem . . . (drum roll, please) Z.R. Southcombe:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in India and raised in New Zealand, Z.R. Southcombe is the author of the picture bookWhat Stars Are Made Of. She is also an accomplished illustrator, a teacher, and a passionate promoter of the New Zealand arts scene. In preparation for the launch of her new children’s book, The Caretaker of Imagination, Zee Southcombe is busy getting ready for a local book signing event, and also touring the web promoting the book and talking about her life as a writer. Please give her a warm welcome!
Hi Zee, and welcome to this blog interview. Tell us, what inspired you to write for children?
Books were what inspired me most as a child. Stories like The Chronicles of Narnia, Matilda, and Watership Down made me feel empowered and important – I want my stories to do the same for other children. In fact, after I write a story or create a painting, I have three criteria that tell me whether it’s good enough:
-Does it empower?
-Is it true to myself?
-Am I proud of it?
Did you have a specific person in mind when writing this book?
Yes – I wrote something that I would have loved as a child. It’s for two groups of people, really. Firstly for children who read a lot and want something a little bit different, and secondly for older people who like those old children’s stories as a read-aloud for their own children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, or students.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process.
Planning takes a long time. I’ve come to realise that I need a strong plan – even though it is likely to change. What’s interesting is that the start and end tend to stay the same, but the bits in the middle move around.
The drafting process is my favourite, and once I get stuck into a draft I’ll write every day. Editing is a pain for me, but I’m getting better! I send it off for a manuscript assessment from Jeni Chappelle first (who is amazing!), work on those revisions, and then send it off to my betas.
That version is the manuscript that my illustrator, Jane Thorne, gets as well. Jane’s been a friend of mine for years – I think we met about seven years ago, and I really look up to her as an artist. One reason I’m really glad I’ve published independently is that I get to choose my illustrator. Her work is perfect for my stories.
As an educator, what is your take on the importance of books and reading in a young person’s life?
Many reasons! The most obvious is the academic benefit. In western education, much is based on the English language – including maths and science. Essay writing is particularly prominent, and we know that we learn from good examples. How can a student possibly write an insightful, balanced, well-written essay if they don’t know what that looks like?
Empathy is built through reading as well, and for me this is the most important benefit for young people. Even if we read characters similar to ourselves, we are thrown into the mind of a different person, and it’s probably the closest we can get to actually seeing life through a different set of eyes. It’s certainly helped me understand people from different walks of life.
Empowerment is another biggie. I know I talked about this in the first question, but the very structure of narrative means that we’re reading about a character who has a massive problem, somehow overcomes it, and comes out better off. Reading stories help us solve our own problems.
I know that some children just don’t like reading, and I truly think that the main reason they don’t read is because they find it difficult and / or boring. It comes down to finding books that are at the right level for you, and about something you’re actually interested in.
Which one of the characters in this book do you most identify with?
Hmm… either John, or Theo. John is one side of me – the side that a lot of grown-ups have, where we watch children playing and want that innocence, naivety and wonder back again, if just for a moment. I don’t actually want to be a child again, but I don’t want to stop seeing the world as a magical, wondrous place.
And as for Theo, I’m pretty sure I was a cat in my previous life. In fact, one of my friends bought me a cat charm for my bracelet, because ‘if was I was any animal, I’d be a cat’.
Some of the most important characters in this book are animals. Why is that?
You know what? I’ve never thought about that before! It’s probably a sneaky influence from C.S. Lewis and A.A. Milne. Perhaps Wind in the Willows as well. I like the idea of animals and humans living in harmony with another – to a point – rather than us feeling like we’re ‘above’ the natural world. Newsflash: we’re a part of it.
Have you ever met a real pirate?
Nope, but my favourite real pirate is Captain Bartholomew Roberts (also known as ‘Black Bart’) because his beverage of choice was tea! In The Caretaker of Imagination, the pirate Simon Peabody names his ship after Black Bart’s ship: the Royal Fortune.
Did your parents, or other relatives, read to you growing up?
I’m pretty sure they did, when I was very young, and my granddad (we called him Pa, and the chimp, Cuthbert, is named after him) would read with me. He taught me to play cards, and chess as well. I hooked into reading quickly though, so I often read to myself.
What children’s author do you admire the most, and why?
Roald Dahl, because his stories are so crazy, and yet they work. He has a way of truly seeing the world from a child’s point of view, which I admire.
What advice do you have for other authors who wish to publish independently?
Tell people what you’re doing and find people who support you. I’ve been blown away with the support I’ve received from friends – even from acquaintances – who are as excited about my book as I am!
Make writer friends, as well. Partly for exchanging advice and services, like beta reading (no matter how far down the ladder you are, you do have valuable knowledge and experience), and partly for the ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling. There is no reason you should be on your own as a writer, and fellow writers go through similar ups and downs to you. Youneed this.
Do you have any upcoming projects you want to share with us?
Well, the next story in this series (though it’s a standalone as well) is Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, which is set in space, and with my illustrator at the moment.
I’m currently doing an illustration job for a picture book called Animal Heaven by Anne Vankrovich, and working on the draft for the third book in this series, of which the working title is Beyond the End of the World. It also has pirates and cupcakes.
Where can people buy your new book, The Caretaker of Imagination?
Having already read the book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. If you have young children, or if you love a good story, this book will not disappoint. Here is a short synopsis, just to get you going. Happy reading, and congratulations to Zee Southcombe for publishing this wonderful book.
Bored with his normal life, John Carroll runs away with his faithful cat in search of adventure. When he meets a real-life pirate, John realizes there is much more to the world than he’d ever thought possible – that magic is real, and in desperate need of a hero. John must convince the (once fearsome) Captain Simon Peabody to join him on a fantastic and perilous quest to find the only person who can save magic from being lost forever: the Caretaker of Imagination.